Bach’s six motets were written when he was musical director of St Thomas’ Church in Leipzig, and the Australian Chamber Choir was scheduled to perform them there for three concerts last year until COVID intervened.
Instead, the Melbourne Choir presented them in one concert – a Herculean, uplifting feat requiring great vocal endurance – and one of those performances is now available on demand through the choir’s website.
I invite you to go, you will not be disappointed. And if you’re in the area, you can hear them live when they resume the concert at St. Mary of the Angels Basilica in Geelong on Friday, December 10th.
Led as always by Douglas Lawrence, the ACC is in wonderful shape for this concert against the light and airy backdrop of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Melbourne, Middle Park. From the joyful opening of the a cappella Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf where one seeks help through the “Heavenly Fire, sweet consolation”, to the magnificent Monet dem Herrn ein neues Lied, which impressed Mozart so much when he heard it in Leipzig, the extent of Bach’s accomplishment in these six works, never intended to be heard one after the other, becomes evident.
The 16 choristers will never falter – their true intonation, beautiful phrasing and diction remain intact until the end of this two-hour marathon. They are aided by a few instrumental interludes which, in addition to giving them a break before the next double fugue or the simple, flowing lines of the Lutheran hymns incorporated by Bach, serve to vary the texture of the entire performance.
Cellist Rosanne Hunt plays a few movements from three of Bach’s suites, as well as accompanying organist Rhys Boak for some of the motets, including the longest and most famous of all, Jesus, meine Freude which ends the first half.
Boak offers the Arioso of Capriccio on the departure of a beloved brother, which makes a candy fresh mouth for the challenges Singet dem Herrn following. Thought to have been written for the funeral of the Lutheran Electress of Saxony, Christiane Eberhardine, it is the only one of the six motets to feature solos and soprano Amelia Jones, viola Elizabeth Anderson, tenor Matthew Bennett and bass Steven Hodgson all turn out to be worth the wait.
The Genius of Bach – Les Motets will be performed at the Basilica of Sainte-Marie-des-Anges in Geelong on Friday, December 10. It is also available on request through the Australian Chamber Choir website.